Five Random Tips for Shooting Video Outdoors

outdoor-video

Shooting video outdoors is different from shooting video indoors.

The principles are still the same (video is video after all), but the tools and techniques you use can be different.

I’m going to share some random tips for shooting video outdoors here. This list isn’t in any particular order; it’s just a bunch of ideas that you might want to keep in mind.

1. Look at the shadows to assess the light

When you head outside to shoot video, one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is:

What kind of light will you be working with outdoors?

Here is an easy way to quickly assess the light:

Find a shadow on the ground. This could be the shadow from a tree trunk, a street sign, or anything solid.

Look at the edge of the shadow. Is the shadow’s edge crisp and well-defined? If so, then you know you’ll be working with hard light.

Is the shadow’s edge soft and gradual? If so, then you know you’re working with soft light.

Is there no obvious shadow at all? Then you know the light is extremely soft.

Does the available light quality match up with what you want for your video shoot? If it doesn’t, then you might need to use some additional tools and techniques to change the light.

One of those tools is likely a reflector.

2. Use rigid reflectors

There are tools which are super-useful in still photography, that aren’t very useful in videography.

A collapsible reflector disc is one of those tools. Indoors, you can still use them, but outdoors — it’s not a great reflector for video.

The problem is that the slightest wind can move the reflector around. Not only is it difficult to work with, but it creates moving light on your subject’s face — this is especially true if it’s a shiny metallic reflector (such as silver or gold).

The moving light on your subject’s face makes them look like they have water reflecting onto them, as if they are standing over a swimming pool or pond.

It’s possible that you intentionally want this look, but most likely you don’t. So it’s best to avoid using collapsible reflectors outdoors. They’re too flimsy.

Instead, using something rigid like a thick piece of white foamcore board. This is ideal for a reflector.

I sometimes use Westcott Scrim Jims which have a rigid frame and a fabric reflector. They’re a happy medium.

They’re easily portable because they collapse and fit into a bag, but they’re far more rigid than a collapsible disc reflector.

That said, they’re not perfectly rigid. If you’re using the shiny silver side of a fabric on a Scrim Jim, you can still get the rippling water effect if there’s a breeze, so a white foamcore board is better (though certainly less portable).

Another option is a shiny board which is rigid and extremely reflective. If you need A LOT of reflected light, this is a great option.

As a side note, I want to mention something important: You can hurt someone’s eyes by using the silver or gold side of a reflector to reflect light into their face. That’s something to avoid.

Instead, use the metallic side of a reflector to light inanimate objects such as trees behind your main subject, or to side-light or rim-light your subject.

But never shine the metallic side into their face. It can cause them pain and possibly damage their eyes.

3. Use C-Stands to give yourself a hand

If you’re a “one man band” as many video shooters are these days, then a C-stand can be your loyal, helpful friend.

A C-stand is a heavy stand that can be used to hold things in place. For example, if you need a reflector to be held at a certain position without moving, you can use a C-stand with a grip head to do that.

Even though a C-stand is a little on the heavy side, you still need a sandbag anytime you use a C-stand.

Think of them as one unit (C-stand and sandbag). They belong together and never should be separated.

A C-stand that falls over in the wind can injure someone.

4. An ND Filter is almost a requirement outdoors

Chances are that you don’t want your outdoor video to look like a battle scene from Saving Private Ryan.

You want normal motion blur.

Because shutter speed affects motion blur, you need to use a normal shutter speed.

But you might have a dilemma: You can’t adjust the shutter speed because you want normal motion blur, but you also want a shallow depth of field, so you don’t want too high of an F-Stop.

What do you do?

Well, you can have your cake and eat it too! Just put an ND filter in front of your lens (or switch it on, if you have it built into your camera).

An ND filter is a Neutral Density filter. It reduces the amount of light entering your camera’s sensor, without changing the quality or color of the light.

Without the ND filter, when you open the aperture of your camera all the way (the same thing as the lowest F-stop number), you would overexpose your image.

The ND filter can prevent this. It allows you to have BOTH a shallow depth of field AND normal motion blur.

Important: More people should be using ND filters when they shoot video outdoors.

By the way, the built-in ND filter is a luxury that many prosumer cameras have, whereas DSLR cameras require you to purchase ND filters as separate accessories.

5. Avoid eye-squinting

You generally don’t want people to be squinting their eyes when they’re on video.

Want to know how to get them to stop?

Don’t make them look at bright objects!

Put the sun behind them. Then use a gentle (white) reflector to bounce some light into their face (which is in shadow because the sun is behind them).

This gives them a nice rim light from the sun, and you can use a reflector for fill, or use two reflectors for both key and fill sources.

As (yet another) side note — you might want to ask your talent to stop habitually wearing sunglasses outdoors. Their eyes can be overly sensitive to bright light if they always wear sunglasses outdoors.

This makes it harder for them to see bright objects without squinting.

In summary…

This list doesn’t include everything, of course.

I could probably write a list of another fifty tips for shooting video outdoors, but that’s too much for one article. I’ll share more in the future.

These are the ones that are on my mind right now, and I think they can be immediately helpful to you.

Will they help you? What has been your experience with these items? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments…

17 thoughts on “Five Random Tips for Shooting Video Outdoors

  1. I’m using a prosumer panosonic for outdoor shooting with an ND filter, in sunny FL. Should I also use a polarizer?

    1. John – Yes, most likely would benefit from a polarizer sometimes. That said, I personally only use a polarizer if I want to see through heavy reflections on glass, or into water. I should probably use it more often, but I pretty much don’t. Haha.

      Depending on the position of the sun, you’ll probably get a higher quality, more contrasty look if you use a polarizer on occasion.

  2. Good tips Izzy…coming from the stills world moving toward more video, you’re so right about the reflectors…the circular discs work well when you photographing a fraction of time, but could be a problem when shooting motion.

    Do you have a favorite brand of ND filter? Do you have one size and then use step down rings?

    Thanks!
    Paul

    1. Paul – I usually use the ND filters that are built into my cameras. I own a traditional Tiffen ND filter, and I’m sure it’s excellent, but I rarely use it because I’m usually using my built-in ND filters. :)

  3. Izzy –

    I love your posts, links, suggestions and ideas. Very helpful and always love reading these blogs and watching the videos you release.

    As a one-man-band myself, do you have a video or blog about how to organize your gear bag? I have a plastic bin I use to carry all my extras around in (XLR cables, mice, headphones and all the extras one has to have at the ready). It’s just a disaster, I would like a little guidance on how best to organize something like that. Should have I my audio equipment in a separate bin to make things a bit easier? Thanks!

    1. Stonecoldmark – Thanks for the kind words.

      I really need to do a video on organizing equipment and accessories for location shoots, but first I need to figure out my own system. This is definitely an area where I can improve. Haha!

  4. Izzy, I love these little tips — even though I’ve been shooting stills and video a long time, it’s always nice to see how others approach common situations. Btw, any info on the sexy rig in the photo?

  5. It has been my experience that polarizer filters are an absolutely wonderful tool for still photos. Motion, however, is another thing altogether. If you are shooting something fluid like water, or you are panning the camera around the sky, it can be very difficult to make sure that you have the same look throughout a shot. It can be done, but it’s not easy. I have some stills that I shot while I was in Kenya and was able to totally remove the surface of the water to reveal some slumbering hippos! Without the filter they were all but invisible. Have fun with it!

  6. Izzy, On a different subject…I wonder if you have any reccomendations for a video camera in the $3000 or less range for general “artistic” not necesseraly commercial stuff?
    Thanks,
    Dick

  7. In reference to hard reflectors, have plenty of sandbags or a assistant who pays attention to the elements. from a camera / lighting specialist of over 30 years. Good advice Izzy for novice shooters, keep it up. Regards from a windy Cape Town.

  8. I found especially helpful your number 5 about using reflectors rather than having the sun behind the camera, to cut down on squinting. Thanks for these articles.

  9. your tips are very helpful and i will be shooting a video today and its cloudy i hope it will be good for me to shoot at around 12 and 3 in the afternoons .

    thank you so much .

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